Rugby: Wales take heart from near-miss in bid to end dismal record against New Zealand

By Steve James

For all the talk of Wales's woeful record against New Zealand in not having beaten them since 1953, it is easily forgotten that the last time the two teams met in Cardiff in November 2014, Wales were winning 16-15 with little more than 10 minutes remaining.

The All Blacks then altered their tactics and used a kicking game to devastating effect in scoring three tries to win 34-16, but it does at least give Wales something to cling on to as they approach the first test in Auckland tomorrow.

"You would hope that it is tight and it comes down to the latter stages," said assistant coach Neil Jenkins. "The last few times we have played the All Blacks we have been with them with about 15 minutes to go, but then they have constantly showed why they are the best side in the world. They go away from you in the last 10 to 15 minutes. They just keep coming and can score tries so quickly."

Jenkins, who knows a thing or two about goal-kicking, having been the first player to reach 1000 test points, thinks the match could come down to his old speciality, but is not convinced that Aaron Cruden's poor form with the boot for the Chiefs, where he has mostly left the duties to full back Damian McKenzie, is a reliable indicator at the higher level.

"I'm sure the goal-kicking will be a crucial factor," said Jenkins. "But Aaron Cruden is a fantastic goal-kicker as far as I'm concerned. I know he hasn't been doing much this season but he has the last few weeks and he has been there, done that in the past."

Wales captain Sam Warburton, who was sent off in Wales's Rugby World Cup semifinal defeat by France at Eden Park in 2011, has urged his players to be bold against the All Blacks.

"The players are extremely motivated given the very poor record we've got against New Zealand and we are all desperate to change that," he said. "We will be a hugely motivated group on Saturday. We are going to have to take a few risks and we can't afford to be conservative and expect to win.

"The thing with New Zealand is you're only ever one mistake away from conceding seven points and two from 14 points - the scoreboard can change within the click of your fingers. Being able to concentrate for the full 80 is very important. You have to take risks - he who dares, wins."

Meanwhile All Black captain Kieran Read has dismissed the history between the sides and is advocating a more cautious approach from his side. "We have got a few other things to worry about as a group," he said. "This is our first chance of 2016 so that's what we're focusing on. The key for us will be not to try too much early. The nature of a test match is that it will be abrasive and they will bring a lot of line speed and if we try to make things happen then it won't come off."

The All Blacks have unusually had a two-week preparation time in an effort to combat early-season rustiness. "It has been a long build-up for us," said Read. "The guys are itching to get out there on the field. But we do know what is ahead of us. It's going to be won by inches and us doing our jobs."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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